The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen said it has launched a new air campaign on the country’s capital and other provinces, in retaliation for missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“The targeting of civilians and civilian facilities is a red line,” said Colonel Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the coalition.
He was referring to the missile and drone strikes on Saudi cities in recent weeks that the Iranian-backed rebels, known as Houthis, had claimed.
“The terrorist (Houthi) leaders will be held accountable,” he said.
Residents in Sanaa, Yemen’s rebel-held capital, reported hearing huge explosions as a round of bombs fell on the city on Sunday. The Houthi-run al-Masirah satellite TV channel reported at least seven air strikes on the Yemeni capital.
The coalition said the Houthis were encouraged by a decision of President Joe Biden’s administration last month to remove them form the US’s terror list. The designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organisation was announced in the waning days of former president Donald Trump’s administration, and caused widespread outcry from humanitarian groups working in Yemen.
While the Houthi attacks rarely cause damage or casualties, strikes on major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, have shaken energy markets and the world economy.
The coalition also said it intercepted and destroyed at least 12 explosives-laden drones and two ballistic missiles the rebels fired on Sunday at Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday, the Houthis said they launched a drone attack on an oil facility in the port city of Jiddah. Another ballistic missile attack last week reached as far as the capital Riyadh, where it was intercepted and exploded in the sky, scattering shrapnel over the city.
Yehia Sarie, a Houthi military spokesman, meanwhile, claimed that their air defences on Sunday downed a Turkish-made drone launched by Saudi Arabia’s air force over the northern province of Jawf.
There was no acknowledgement from Saudi Arabia, and the rebels did not provide evidence to support their claim.
Sunday’s air strikes on Sanaa have also come as the Houthis continue their offensive on the central province of Marib, in an attempt to retake it from the internationally recognised government. They have faced stiff resistance and suffered heavy casualties without making progress. Hundreds were killed in the Marib clashes.
There have also been clashes in the province of Taiz. The Medecins Sans Frontieres charity, or MSF, said on Friday that more than two dozen people wounded in the clashes were treated in Al-Thawra hospital, which is run by the charity. MSF also said heavy gunfire hit the hospital, wounding at least three people including one healthcare worker and a 12-year-old child.
The conflict in Yemen erupted nearly six years ago, after the Houthis swept into the capital and seized much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led military coalition launched a bombing campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognised government.
The stalemated war was has killed around 130,000 people, including more than 12,000 civilians, pushed millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism for its air strikes that have killed civilians and hit non-military targets in Yemen.